"Potentior" was written and directed by Nicholas Werner, a Stanford student in film & media studies. He is also part of the How They Got Game group at the Stanford Humanities Laboratory.
This ambitious movie traces the events of the final major battle in the Gallic Wars, the epic struggle between Julius Caesar and Vercingetorix focused on the siege of the fortified town of Alesia. At over 40 minutes in length, the movie can afford to dwell on many details and stratetic aspects of the battle, as well as covering all the major events of the siege.
Even more remarkable, it makes use of the Rome: Total War game engine, and thus serves as one of the few examples of an ambitious machinima project that makes use of a real-time strategy game. As this game is geared largely towards display of large-scale battles, Werner utilized a number of techniques and tricks to bring the focus down to the level of the main characters. At the same time, the strategic focus of the game allowed for scenes involving a "cast of thousands." -- Henry Lowood
"Set during the last major battle of the Gallic Wars, Potentior follows the opposing generals Julius Caesar and Vercingetorix as one tries to subdue Gaul entirely, and the other fights to get it back. Roughly 40 minutes long, the film is a both a full recreation of the battle and an examination of the nature of war and conquest as understood by the people closest to it. Made entirely with the "Rome: Total War" graphics engine, Potentior marks one of the first entries of RTS gaming into the world of machinima, and is one of the longest single pieces to yet exist in the medium."--http://werner.stanford.edu
CREATOR: Werner, Nicholas
GAME: Rome: Total War
GAME DEVELOPER: Creative Assembly
GAME PUBLISHER: t
GAME ENGINE/MACHINIMA TOOL: Rome: Total War
RUN TIME: 40:36
PERFORMERS: Foley, Jason; Davis, Galen; Jewell, Cameron; Meisel, Joshua; Vermilion, Kevin; Teitelbaum, Yoni; Hurlbutt, Tom; Lin, Zihan; Tamm, Dharna; Cornute, Christopher
November 6, 2010 Subject:
Excellent piece. I usually click around when I'm online but I watched this from beginning to end without a break. I've read a lot of history and it's fun to see a generally forgotten episode like this brought to life in a new way. Watching the troop formations shift was great. I like the music, too. Well done.
October 30, 2007 Subject:
The voice acting was forced, I could only sit through 3 minutes of it before getting bored stiff. Really, the effort put forth in this "film" is on par with Naruto fanfiction. Giving a 2 star rating only because Rome: Total War is one of my favorite campaign games of all time. If it were up to the content quality of the movie alone, I would give it 0/5 if at all possible.
December 17, 2006 Subject:
Nice Effort, but Highlights Technique's Limitations
Although it's obvious that a lot of effort has gone into the project, the final result doesn't capture the viewer's attention. Too many long dialogue scenes with poor voice acting but without visual clues add to the problems...I don't normally like voiceovers, but perhaps that would have worked. Also, unanswered questions are left with the way battle events are timed.
Kudos to the makers for tackling such a topic, and for all the effort put into the project. It's unfortunate that game-engine oddities give such things as identical Celts--which make the movie look like it belongs in the Clone Wars. These glitches distract from the overall project.
June 25, 2006 Subject:
Hey man, I'm perfectly willing to go forward with the debate if you are. Frankly, I think there's a lot of potential here (get it? get it?). Like I said, you and I are coming from two completely different ends of the theoretical spectrum, and the debate so far has already led me down certain roads I would not have otherwise. I'd love to see what happens from here.
Don't take the "fuck you" personally; like I said, I disagree with your theory, not you and the bands you like (10 bonus points if you catch that reference). Pretentious? Probably. Ah well, I'm young and reckless.
Anywho, tell me all the reasons why my theory is wrong and I'll be here. Five-star review and all ;)
P.S. You did say in your first post that you liked the film, or at least parts of it. I found that hard to reconcile with some of the other stuff you said, so I kind of ignored it initially. I would like to take a moment here and say "thank you" for that, though.
P.P.S. I've been told that you are a machinima-maker yourself, but I haven't been able to find any of your stuff. Do you have a link? I'd like to see what you've done.
Well... that was entertaining...
Hi, I'm Nick, I wrote and directed this little venture. So, you guys had quite a lot to say. I'll try to address as many of them as I can, but there's no way I'm getting to all of them. I'll hit the ones that hit me hardest, as it were. In brief, though, I think a lot of these things boil down to a difference of opinion, though some of them I really feel I HAVE to sally back at. I realize that there were technically three of you, but I'll just refer to the proverbial "you" (or the royal "you," if you prefer). Anywho, here's the skinny:
The first and, I would say, biggest concern that came up in this (rather lengthy) conversation was that I was essentially not making a machinima, but a conventional Hollywood film. This was an argument that I'd had during production as well, and there's not really anything to say here, other than that I think we're coming from different philosophical backgrounds. You see a new art form, and it seems that you'd like every piece of that art to emphasize and utilize the new possibilities of that art form. You correctly noticed that this was an attempt to be a Hollywood-style epic, and sort of ignored the limitations inherent to machinima.
That's exactly right.
Yes, the mouths don't move and yes, the flags pop in and out. But I'm not interested in reinventing the wheel, at least not in the way you're suggesting. You often accused me of having "no imagination," but in my own defense I would like to say that my imagination was being used elsewhere. I LIKE movies. I've always wanted to do one like this, but obviously I lack the resources to do one. Until, suddenly, there's this "machinima" thing and I can make whatever I want, low budget and fairly easily ("easily" being a relative term; this was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life).
In other words, you're approaching this as a medium first and a story second, and I'm looking at it as a toolbox where I can finally tell the stories I've always wanted to tell. It does have certain moments where I do things that an ordinary film could not, and that might be considered an 'expansion' of the possibilities of this medium. Really, though, I wanted to make a movie. So I did. It's an issue I've been dealing with, and one I'm rather curious about: is machinima seen by its creators as its own art form, or as a gateway drug to cinema proper? It's something the early filmmakers dealt with as well. (Yes, I'm a film student. Shut up). This exact same argument was thrown around, mostly by French people (surprise surprise). "Why is this newfound cinema bogged down by the convention of narrative? We should forget the narrative, because isn't that just a book? We should embrace the new aspects of the medium and focus on VISUALS!"
And the Americans said, "Fuck you!"
I will not use language as harsh here, but it's the same sentiment. Machinima opens up many new possibilities for what you can see and how, and I feel I dealved into some of them. But I'm here to tell a story and tell it visually, not ponder over the newness of this medium. So what's the difference between an American movie and a book? Because it can be shown, and that's all the difference in the world. What's the difference between "Potentior" and a Hollywood film? Because I made it with a game. That's all there needs to be.
So the mouths don't move. I don't care, and apparently one of the three of you didn't either. Most people who've seen it on my end felt they got past that little issue after the first couple minutes, which is really what I was banking on. You just accept that there are certain limitations and move on. That's the difference between us: you want to write TO the limitations, I want to ignore them. There are certain cases where I really have to bow to the whim of the game engine, but anywhere I can just power through it I do.
I feel like this could rapidly devolve into a "You're wrong!" "No, you're wrong!" "Well, you're ugly!" kind of argument, so I'll just stop it here. Suffice to say, this particularl critique doesn't bother me at all and won't really change what I do from here. If you want to see "machinima-for-machinima's-sake" films, well, go watch them, or go make them. I'll keep doing what I do.
The next big thing was the "dialogue vs. battle scenes" bit, and you guys seemed divided on this. On this end, it was unanimously agreed that the dialogue sequences were really, really cool, and the battle scenes less so. So over here the dialogue won out, and one of you agreed with that. I tried to compensate for the lack of facial movement with camera movement and for the most part, I think it works. You obviously disagree. "No, YOU'RE ugly!"
One of you said you didn't like the voice acting, and there's nothing I can say there. I loved what my actors gave me, every bit of it. If you didn't, it's your loss.
To whoever said I portrayed Caesar as "heroic": I am absolutely dumbfounded. Of all the people who saw this movie with me, NOT ONE of them read it this way. You are the only person. In fact, over here several people read it as a "Caesar is turning into a monster" movie. It's not really meant to be either, it's meant to be a more complex examination of this character. I may have assumed that the audience knew more about Caesar than they do, so I skip over certain steps, as it were. I don't want to say that a "heroic" reading is wrong, per se, but when you call me "hopelessly naive" for doing that, I have to say that it was you, not me, who totally missed the point.
Still, that I got both a "heroic" and a "monster" reading means I hit that shade of grey I wanted perfectly, since people are reading into it whatever they want. So I'm actually going to go ahead and take that as a compliment. Though I have to ask, what part of invading Rome for personal gain was meant to be heroic?
I have nothing to say about the critiques of sound. I thought the game sounded great so I used it. I had no method of getting a composer, and I didn't want to run into copyright issues, so I just used the music from the game. I rather liked it, actually. If you didn't, fine.
One of you said it would be a sad day when machinima could rival anything Hollywood has produced, which I think ties into the whole "machinima-for-machinima's-sake" argument. Personally, I can't wait for that day to get here. And I don't think it's that far away.
Back to the imagination thing: you would NEVER find a movie paced and shot like this in a Hollywood epic, and at least one person that I've talked to noticed this. I'm not going to toot my own horn over here, but I don't like being called "unimaginative." Try watching this not as a MACHINIMA!!!, but as an attempt at filmmaking for someone outside the Hollywood system. I think you'll see it in a different light.
The "file size" thing has several areas of response. First, the post to this website was just a way for me to get the movie to my parents, really. I am currently making files of varying sizes and formats, some of which can be found at my website (werner.stanford.edu). This one will be available, and an even bigger (and I mean HUGE) one will be available to my billions of adoring fans, but I think most people will opt for smaller file sizes.
That being said, if anybody has any recommendations for compressions, do tell! I'm new to all this stuff (and I do mean ALL this stuff).
While I appreciate that you "both liked the film, yadda yadda," I think in the end we are just operating from different philosophies. You want me to write to the medium. I'm writing to my imagination. Yeah, my IMAGINATION. I'm sorry, that comment really pissed me off. Frankly, I think you might be stuck in a bit of a rut yourself in the way you're watching this emerging and, I should emphasize, EVOLVING medium, and I would encourage you to have a little more imagination in the way you're watching it.
In the end, I liked "Potentior." I liked it a whole lot. Does it have flaws? Well, sure, though I think the flaws I see are different than the ones you see. But from my perspective, I've always wanted to make a movie like this but never thought I could unless I got ridiclously, ludicrously lucky. Now I've made one, and as long as I live I'm going to be very proud of it. I don't care if everybody on this Earth decides it sucks, it's exactly the movie I wanted to see.
And I'm not done yet.
PS. I'm not so pretentious as to give myself five stars just to flatter myself. I'm just bumping the average up so other people will download.
June 22, 2006 Subject:
Admire the ambition, but needs a lot more work.
June 22nd Update & Brief Response to the Director's post:
We had hoped that our comments on "Potentior" would encourage healthy debate, but it appears we were too harsh in our criticism. The cleverly disquised "Fuck You" quote pretty much sums up the directors response. We are sorry you feel that way. Our intention was not to insult, but to debate and inquire.
As to the truth of our remarks, we'll let the viewers decide. We do wish you well in your future machinima films.
The following is a transcript of the conversation between gToon, MuNansen and Dxvid at mprem.com (Machinima Premiere) regarding the machinima film Potentior. If you would like to joing in the conversation you can continue it here or go to mprem.com. We invite the director or anyone associated with the production to enter into conversation. While we have strong reservations about Potentior, we found quite a bit to enjoy.
gToon: potentior is a latin word for stronger (potentia = strong). This film is essentially a dramatic, Hollywood-style depiction of the penultimate battle at Alesia in 52 BC where Ceasar completed his co
nquest of Gaul.
This machinima film is very good example of what is great and what is wrong with machinima as an art form. While I respect the filmmaker for his obvious hard work and effort in putting together such a difficult project and doing it well, it simply does not work as a film. As a piece of fan fiction or class room project it is very well done, but the technical problems that are created by choosing to shoot the film in Rome: Total War are just too large to overcome.
The basic problem with the film is that the director chose to write a script and shoot a movie that emulates the Hollywood epic style. And so we get a script that makes Caesar into a hero when most historians agree that the war in Gaul was not a "defensive" effort that Ceasar describes in his famous memoir of the campaign, but rather an attempt to shore up his politcal position back home in Rome and to recoupt the massive debts he had ammasses during the campaign. Making Ceasar into a heroic figure is simply naive. Even a modest amount of historical research would have revealed what Ceasar's real character was like.
While the Rome game engine produces some really interesting wide shots, it's simply awful on medium or close ups. You can see these are lo-res models who were not meant to be shot close up. The lack of lip-sync is not terrible, but the fact that the director decided to shoot many close-ups and medium shots made it very difficult to believe in the characters and what they were doing. Here's where the good/bad part of machinima comes in: rather than trying to imitate conventional movie forms, why not come up with your own visual form that makes up for the problems you find in the game engine? If you have not lip-sync, why have such a dialogue heavy script and why shoot so closely?
The strength of the film lies in it's deptiction of battle scenes. When the film concentrated on depicting the tide of battle and the large movements of soldiers in the war, it works. This is the engine's strength. By trying to re-create the kind of film we see in the movie theatres (Alexander/Troy/Rome (tv series) the movie falls flat on it's face, but when it uses the strengths of the game engine, it works.
Machinima is at it's best when it is consistent and original. And when the limitations of the game engine are taken into account and either avoided or cleverly hidden by choosing different camera angles and reducing a word-heavy script. And if you choose to do voice acting, you must rehearse enough to make the acting realistic. Through most of the film the acting was not very good: too melodramatic and, at times, simply bad. I'm not talking about scenes of command, but in dialogue scenes between two people. They just did not work. Add the lack of lip-sync and blocky models and the film would just stop dead in its tracks. Practice and careful casting (and less dialogue) will solve this problem though.
Draw distance is another issue with machinima when it's done on an epic scale like this. I know it's inevitable, but it bothers me to see a great shot of the Roman legion and then suddenly the banners pop in as the camera pulls back. I think you have to cut these scenes. If realism is the goal, why accept this obvious limitation of the PC it's being shot on?
You might think that because of my criticism , I did not like the film. But that wouldn't be the case. While I wished it wasn't so much like a traditional film (will somebody stop putting the Carmina Burana style music in the end credits?) I was impressed with the sincerity and the fact that the director would tackle such an interesting subject matter, even though I don't agree at all with the depiction of Caesar. There was something really great about the scenes of troups amassing and front line battle. And to decide to do a 40 minute movie is bold. I admire that.
PS It seemed that most of sound was in-game and positional, but I wanted to hear more realistic sounds that could be layered in to the mix. Original game sound (if that is what it was) is usually somewhat muted and muddy, which is why the best machinima of this type create their own sound. In this case, a better mix of game sound and sound effects would have made a more compelling soundtrack. The music was good, but too predictable for this kind of "war" film. I've heard it too often to interest me.
Dxvid: I watched it and like you had some serious reservations. Some of the battle scenes were just comical - bodies flying 30 feet into the air! And opposing soldiers just ignoring and calmly walking past each other. And although the Romans looked great (because their faces were hidden by helmets), the Celts again looked a bit comical - they were all identical twins! So as you say the close-up scenes didn't always work. Also I'm not sure about the historical accuracy. Didn't Caesar win by building a huge barricade around the town, a massive feat of engineering in itself, and starving the Celts out over several months?
Yes, just looked it up. The main feature of the conflict was the siege, which wasn't mentioned.
On the other hand, as a piece of machinima I enjoyed it quite a lot. The lack of lip-sync didn't bother me, many machinima movies don't have it, and some of the manoeuvres were stunning eg the "Tortoise" one (forgotten the Latin name!). It is the nearest thing I have seen to a Hollywood "epic", and needless to say at a fraction of the time or cost.
I understand what you have been saying here and in the blog about getting more professionalism into machinima, but I suspect what you are saying will only resonate with the small minority who can make a profession out of machinima. Nothing wrong with that, good luck to those who can do it, but there is another side to machinima as well. There is an innocent and god-like pleasure in creating something, in creating anything which every child knows instinctively and which nearly every adult has been "taught" to lose. We stop drawing, painting, writing, making music or whatever because someone has told us we don't measure-up. If punk does anything it smashes right through that barrier and says "Go ahead and create something... and enjoy it!"
I suppose becoming a professional at anything does require a loss of innocence, it's just not a price I want to pay.
MuNansen: Um, is the 300+mb Cinepak version the only one available? Non danke.
Dxvid: It's the only one I know about. But as it is about 40 mins long I doubt if there are any smaller versions.
Just a few more thoughts on the above stuff. I was thinking to myself - if someone managed to produce a machinima movie which had all the production values to rival anything Hollywood has produced, would I be interested? I'm not sure I would. After all I can watch such movies whenever I want, but most of the time choose not to. So what is the attraction about machinima movies? I think it is their rawness, their awkwardness their amateurishness and the ingenious (and sometimes not so ingenious!) ways people tackle the limitations that actually makes them interesting. To paraphrase Leonard Cohen - its through the cracks that the light comes in! I think it will be a sad day when someone produces the perfect machinima movie. Then we will all have to pack-up and do something else!
MuNansen: Believe me, you can definitely do better than Cinepak. The high quality .wmv for Just a Game's less than 40mb, and it's 12 minutes long.
When creators don't consider the bandwidth of their audience, I usually don't download unless I REALLY ought to.
gToon: At last, someone else to talk to about this film. Thanks for taking the time to watch this and comment.
Like you, I admire machinima for much of it's rawness and simplicity, too, but having a professional attitude about your work doesn't mean you lose these qualities. Yes, I'm all for the "create something and enjoy it" idea about machinima, but you can still learn about how to make your films better technically; you can still come up with smart ways to get around game engine limitations by using your imagination. My biggest issue with machinima as a whole is lack of imagination. "potentior" has a kind of amateurs charm, as you point out, but how much better a film it would be if more imagination had gone into it's making. I don't think this idea is exclusive to those who want to make machinima their career. It's just smart.
You point out that one of the attractions to machinima is it's amateurishness and the ingenious ways people tackle limitations of the form. Well, you have to see the limitations in the first place, don't you? The folks who made potentior didn't spend much time on this aspect of their film and it really hurts their work. If you are a student in film school at Stanford and you don't take time to solve simple problems shooting in the game engine you chose, I don't think any amount of "amateurishness" is going to make up for it.
I'm not really advocating an elistism in machinima, just more originality. potentior is using Hollywood epics as a model, why not use their imagination and come up with something more original? I think machinima, in general, spends too much time copying other forms and not enough time in subverting them like punk rock did for music.
PS. Mu's right about the bandwidth issue. Again, just some research and questions in the right place would have made their film much easier to download.
Dxvid: Yes it is a bit ironic that a film school student should allow so many flaws. Oh well, plenty of room for improvement! Perhaps we should copy/paste these comments to the IA as it doesn't seem to be getting any feedback there?
Not so sure about the size issue though. I think up to 10mb/min is reasonable for a high res (640 or above) version? Can't remember what res potentior is though? - haven't kept my copy.
gToon: Unintentional, but telling remark about the film. I didn't keep mine either, so I can't check it.
About IA: sure? You want to do it, or me? Thanks for the reminder about their forums. I often don't remember they are there!
Dxvid: Well at 300+ mb it would have to be very good for me to keep it. I just thought it was good.
Yes please, I think you should do it as the majority of the feed-back is yours, but if you don't want to I will be happy to do it.
I think it might be his first film and I know that he spent months on it so tell him it's not that we didn't like the film, just that there are areas that could improve. You know what I mean!
Also invite him to reply, either here or at the IA, I would be interested to hear his response. Thanks.
gToon: Ok. I'll see if I can't get this dialogue up on IA in the next few days. I'll make sure they know we both liked the film, yadda yadda. Yes, I'd like to hear what they/he has to say as well.
Dxvid: I was thinking of just pasting what we said into the "Be first to write a review" section under the movie, because their forum is very little used and if you put it there it may not even be seen. Then if they wanted to discuss it further, open a thread in the forum or come here.
gToon: That's exactly what I was going to do. I'll paste away later tonight
And there you have it. Again, if you are the director or have worked on the film, please feel free to engage in conversation or argue points with us. For that matter, anyone can do so. Let
us know what you think either here or at mprem.com